Indiana Cavern's Blog A journey of exploration and development in Binkley Cave. 2014-08-09T15:44:49-04:00 http://indianacaverns.com/blog/ Return to the Milky Way http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2014/08/09/return-to-the-milky-way/ 2014-08-09T15:44:49-04:00 <p>Return to the Milky Way</p> <p>It had been close to a year since the last survey trip to the Milky Way-an upstream lead. From this area, caver’s exit Rand’s Return River Ride, a 1700-foot long water crawl that was the key link in the discovery of the immense new Wild Wild West section of the Binkley cave system.</p> <p>On Sunday August 3rd, Brad Barcom organized a trip to continue the survey from where he stopped on the last trip in a low wide crawl over cobble. He was joined by his fiancée, Goni Iskali, Chris Parks, an Indiana cave diver who joined the project just this summer, and Seth Gower, a young local Harrison County caver.</p> <p>While the actual travel distance to the Milky Way isn’t excessive, it is almost all crawling. Part was dry and other areas were very wet. Wet suits are a necessity to stay warm; yet everyone gets really hot traversing the dry 1200-foot crawlway leading from just inside the Miller’s entrance.</p> <p>After an early breakfast at Frederick’s, it was off to the cave. Not far in, Seth’s light crapped out leaving him stranded in the dark behind the others. He yelled ahead and Goni backtracked to help. He decided to abort his trip as the rugged, wet conditions necessitated having a strong dependable light. The other three continued onward and experienced no further difficulties in reaching the Milky Way.</p> <p>This trip requires more crawling than any other trip in the entire cave system. Brad estimated after the trip that they were in crawlway about 95% of the time &#8211; much of it in water. The trip is definitely hard on the knees, shoulders and the human psyche. Hour after hour in a prone position can challenge even strong cavers.</p> <p>It took them about three hours to reach the frontier and get ready to begin their survey. They had been surveying for about two and a half hours when the cave started to open up and they reached a “Y”. Unfortunately, to the left the passage quickly ended in a silt fill and to the right the water flowed out from under a ledge beyond which was a low airspace bathtub.</p> <p>Both Brad and Chris took a quick look at the bathtub. Brad sucked up a gulp of water and neither made it far. Chris then traded lights with Brad, since he didn’t feel he could trust his, and headed back in for a second look. This time he glided forward with his nose to the ceiling for about 50 feet where the bathtub opened back up to a low wide passage the same size as they had been surveying in. There was strong airflow through the low airspace indicating lots more cave lay ahead. However being alone, Chris didn’t dare go much further.</p> <p>It was time to head out. No one even contemplated surveying through the bathtub on this trip. It took them about three and a half hours to reach the entrance. Their trip had been only nine hours, but over eight hours were spent on their belly or elbows and knees. When the survey notes were plotted, they had added 733.3 feet of new survey and it had turned northeast up the strike in the limestone rock. The bathtub was located right where the cave passage crossed under a ravine on the surface.</p> <p>The passage appears to be heading directly under the center of a large ridge to the northeast. Could the airflow be coming from a large borehole under this hill? There would have to be more trips to the Milky Way.</p> <p>They had accomplished their main goal for the trip. The 733 feet of survey had increased the length of the Binkley cave system to 40.83 miles, moving Binkley up into 8th position on the US long cave list! The cave currently in seventh place is less than a mile ahead.</p> <p>The next big trip is planned for September 6th to survey downstream in the newly discovered McLain River passage.</p> <p>All the <span class="caps">ISS</span> cavers are really excited about the possibilities that lie there.</p> Gary Roberson gary@indianacaverns.com Up the McLain River http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2014/07/29/mclain-river/ 2014-07-30T13:05:02-04:00 <p>After the breakthrough into big going river passage on June 14th, everyone in the <span class="caps">ISS</span> was eager to return and see where the big river went. <span class="caps">ISS</span> members realized the 40-mile milestone for Binkley cave system was within reach. After their grueling 15+hour trip, everyone needed a week or two to rest and allow their bruised bodies to mend. With the 4th of July holiday upcoming, the return trip was finally scheduled for July 12th.</p> <p>Many of the key <span class="caps">ISS</span> members intended to go; so Rand and Dave made plans for four survey teams of three cavers each. One person became ill at the last minute so eleven people left Frederick’s after a hearty pre-cave breakfast around 10am on Saturday morning. It was hot, but with no chance of rain, so the cavers needn’t be concerned about the weather with a long trip ahead of them.</p> <p>Excitement was in the air as they walked beside the rapidly growing corn to the Miller’s entrance sink. It took about five hours at a steady pace with a couple of short breaks to reach the frontier. Most of the participants had never seen the new river before. Brad, Shane and Chris had arrived first and already started the survey upstream. The other three teams caught up, split up and started leapfrogging each other up the river. The passage was large and travel was quite easy- totally different than the passages they had traveled through to reach this point. Survey progress was rapid. It seemed like no time and they had charted over a half-mile of new virgin survey where no one had ever set foot before.</p> <p>About ¾’s of a mile upstream, they entered a huge room – possibly the biggest in the entire system (depending on how you measured). The breakdown room was enormous by Indiana standards with a broad perfectly flat gray ceiling overhead. Certainly the rock had to be either St. Genevieve limestone contact or the thick beds surrounding the Lost River chert. The generally thin-bedded St. Louis limestone most of Binkley was formed in would never support such a broad expanse. The breakdown collapse was apparently quite old. It appeared that the floodwaters of the large river forming the passage had either dissolved or transported downstream much of the collapse making the open area of the room abnormally large and open. The room was about 250-300 feet long and averaged close to 100 feet wide. The ceiling height rose to 50-60 feet above the stream.</p> <p>They all agreed that it was worthy of being named “The McLain Mountain Room” in honor of <span class="caps">ISS</span> stalwart Tim McLain who died of a heart attack last November in another part of the cave. They also decided the passage should called “The McLain River”. Tim would have been proud!</p> <p>They knew their time was limited so they hurried their survey up the river for nearly another half mile where the passage opened up into another large room with a somewhat larger mountain of rock.</p> <p>It was getting late so they decided this would be a good place to stop work and pick up the survey on the next trip. Several decided to recon ahead a short distance from the upstream side of the room. As they climbed down the backside, they saw themselves peering down into a beautiful clear rise pool. The McLain River passage flowed up and out of a 12-foot in diameter deep blue-green pool. Only divers would be able to follow the river further upstream. Chris Parks, one of Indiana’s few cave divers, was on the trip so he plunged into the water to see what the dimensions of underwater conduit might be. He thought the prospects for diving the rise of the McLain appeared excellent. The problem was, they were 6+ hours from the nearest entrance beyond 3,000 feet of crawling passage. No group of Sherpa’s was going to drag diving gear that far into the cave and back out. Any dive would have to wait until a new entrance was found closer or drilled into the big borehole.</p> <p>Reluctantly, one team agreed to place a few more survey shots to finish the survey to the actual sump. Then they started the long slog out. It would be after 3 am Sunday morning before the last cavers emerged from the Miller’s entrance after a 17+ hour trip. They had surveyed over 7,200 feet of virgin passage bringing the length of the Binkley Cave system to 40.61 miles. They are now only a couple hundred feet from 8th place on the US Long Cave List.</p> <p>Lots of potential remains in the area. Explorers saw several large side passages leading of into darkness the river downstream from where they entered has barely been explored. The strong breeze flowing in the McLain River passage indicates there is much more cave to be found.</p> Gary Roberson gary@indianacaverns.com Return To Wilson Way http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2014/06/28/return-to-wilson-way/ 2014-06-28T15:00:58-04:00 <p>Just after the grand opening of Indiana Caverns in June 2013, Rand Heazlitt, who was an integral part of the Indiana Caverns development team, returned to active caving with the <span class="caps">ISS</span>. On his first real caving trip in over a year, Rand pushed a low, wide, wet crawlway that came to be known as “Rand’s Return River Ride. “ After 1700 feet of crawling mostly in water, Rand emerged into another new underground river now known as the “Wild Wild West.”</p> <p>Off of this large river, there was a major lead to the left named “Wilson Way” since it ultimately passed with a few hundred feet of a beautiful well-known 90-foot deep hole known as “Wilson’s Pit.” Several long survey trips extended Wilson Way southeast until by late fall the end of the survey was almost directly under a 920- foot elevation ridge about 1 ½ miles south of Indiana Caverns. However with the unfortunate passing of <span class="caps">ISS</span> caver, Tim McLain, in November, the survey project slowed down dramatically and no one returned to push the walking virgin passage cavers knew to lie beyond.</p> <p>Finally on June 14, 2014, the <span class="caps">ISS</span> cavers decided it was time to return to Wilson Way to push the frontier. The trip there would be at least four hours one way and include around 3,000 feet of crawlway both going in and coming out. The trip would be a long one.</p> <p>On the 14th, six cavers, Tim Pride, Shane Myles, Laura Demarest, Marion Akers, Rand Heazlitt and new recruit to the <span class="caps">ISS</span> project, Chris Parks, headed into the Miller’s entrance to the system just after 11 AM. Five hours later they broke into three two-person teams to begin surveying. Shane and Marion’ s job would be to survey a couple of side leads off Wilson Way near the frontier. The other four would continue a leapfrog survey down Wilson Way. Everyone’s goal was to get as much survey done as possible and hopefully find a big dome that might be a good place for a new entrance to shorten the journey and eliminate all the brutal crawling.</p> <p>Shane and Marion had the harder task as their passages weren’t as spacious or pleasant. The first lead, which Rand hoped would lead to the bottom of Wilson Pit and a possible short cut, turned into a crappy tight wet crawl in less than 150 feet. In the second passage, things were better. The passage was nominally walking height, but very sinuous. They surveyed for several hours before deciding it was time to head out and meet up with the others. They added nearly 400 feet of passage that trended to the west and continued on beyond the end of their survey. Another team would need to come back as their was plenty of potential remaining.</p> <p>The other four leapfrogged quickly down Wilson Way in spacious walking passage. As the two teams were ready to leapfrog again, they arrived at an opening high up on a steep mudbank. They peered down at a big underground river flowing from left to right. Their speculation had been right. Wilson Way was indeed a crossover passage that led to still another large underground river. They had found still another borehole!</p> <p>They were ecstatic with joy even though they were now at least five hours at a fast pace from the nearest entrance. The passage was much larger in the upstream direction so they decided to survey that way first. Chris Parks did a quick recon downstream and found it continued with deep water in an 8-foot high bell-shaped passage. It definitely went; but wasn’t quite as inviting as the upstream appeared to be. They surveyed upstream in big passage averaging 15 feet high and 20-25 feet wide. There was a big mudbank on one side and a vertical rock wall on the other. The underground river was flowing briskly over a rocky floor. Very pleasant caving conditions for the Binkley system and one of the larger passages yet discovered in the cave.</p> <p>They surveyed about 900 feet up river over the next hour and a half. They were a long way from daylight and it was getting late. Reluctantly, it was time to head out. Before total exhaustion set in. They decided to do a little <span class="caps">NTI</span> (next trip investment) before leaving. They quickly strolled up river another 800-900 feet in nice big easy river passage. It just kept going and going beyond their turnaround point. Wow! This was great fun!</p> <p>After meeting up with Shane and Marion back in Wilson Way, they started the slow trek out. Everyone was beat; but exhilarated by their breakout. It was nearly 3 am when they finally crawled out of the Miller entrance into the dry streambed. It had been a 15 ½ hour trip; but an epic one. They had added 3,015 feet of new survey in cave passages that had never before seen by human eyes. Binkley Cave was now 39.3 miles long and the 40-mile mark was now within reach. Although everyone was totally exhausted, they all agreed it wouldn’t be nearly as long before they returned next time.</p> <p>After a huge meal at the Corydon Waffle House, everyone scattered for their homesaround 5 am ready to sleep all day Sunday.</p> Rand Heazlit gary@indianacaverns.com Closing the Loop Part 3 http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2014/05/03/closing-the-loop-part-3/ 2014-05-03T10:37:26-04:00 <p>A much anticipated return trip was set for Saturday March 15th as ten <span class="caps">ISS</span> cavers assembled at Frederick’s Café for the pre-trip breakfast. Dave Everton led a 5-person team up the South Branch River, while Rand took another five team party up through Fantastic Avenue and down the crawl to the pit.</p> <p>The plan was to try to complete the survey of a loop-if one indeed existed. Both teams carried air horns to attempt sound connection first. Dave’s team ran into issues as they couldn’t find what they thought was the correct way on up the river. At one point, some of their party thought they heard an air horn, but if so, it was faint and the direction couldn’t be ascertained.</p> <p>Meanwhile Rand’s team descended the pit and while one team surveyed from the dome to the junction with the river. Two other members of the team, Tim Pride and Shane Myles leapfrogged ahead and started surveying downstream to the right hoping to meet up with Dave’s team coming upstream. They did sound their horn, but heard nothing in reply. They surveyed about 250 feet of passage downstream and then explored ahead when the passage character changed to a twisting joint-controlled pattern necessitating short shots.</p> <p>Simultaneously Rand’s party finished their survey to the river and Laura Demarest pushed upstream to the left towards the sound of a rumbling waterfall. Unfortunately she was alone and stopped by a low bathtub with only 3-4 inches of airspace. She could see ahead through a slot in some breakdown, but it looked tight so she turned back. She reported that the waterfall had to be close, probably just beyond the constriction and visibility.</p> <p>Rand’s group then climbed the second waterfall back at the dome and shot a few shots upstream. They quickly reached a junction. Air was coming out of the passage to the right and their steam was being pulled into the passage to the left. Rand explored both a short distance and reported further splits and going cave in both sides. The left hand lead appeared particularly promising.</p> <p>By this time, Dave’s team had given up. They hadn’t seen any muddy water coming downstream towards them and didn’t know where to proceed. They turned around and headed out, exiting after about an 11½ hour trip.</p> <p>The other team, having not met up with Dave’s team or heard their horn, decided it was time to exit. Having a longer route out and the pit to ascend on the way, they exited about 1am Sunday morning after a 13 ½ hour trip.</p> <p>When the survey notes were plotted, it showed that the downstream river Rand’s team had surveyed was within 245 feet straight line distance of connecting with the South Branch. Tim and Shane had probably explored ahead enough that they were within 100-150 feet of the end of the upstream survey of the South Branch when they turned around. Had Dave’s team made it to that point and , if the timing had been right, they would almost certainly heard each other.</p> <p>The most exciting thing from the trip was the knowledge that there was definitely much more cave to be surveyed at the top of the second waterfall. It was heading east towards high ground that lies about a half mile further east. There is plenty of rock overhead so the air movement may indicate lots of upper cave in that direction.</p> <p>However they still aren’t sure, if their two-waterfall dome is the one Aaron Atz discovered in 2001. Some things say “yes”; others indicate it might not be. Could the waterfall Laura almost reached possibly be Atz’s dome? Only time and more survey trips will tell. One thing for sure – the cave just keeps getting bigger. Surveyed length is now 38.64 miles and there are several new leads to explore.</p> <p>The loop is not quite completed, but while one end is almost in sight- there are more mysteries to be explored. Stayed tuned for the next episode in the Binkley exploration blog.</p> gary@indianacaverns.com Closing the Loop 2 http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2014/04/04/closing-the-loop-2/ 2014-04-04T21:15:57-04:00 <p>In 2011, the revived <span class="caps">ISS</span> returned and extended the South Branch survey a little further upstream, but didn’t reach Atz’s Solo Dome.</p> <p>Then in 2012, the <span class="caps">ISS</span> made a trip up Fantastic Avenue to check a small drain off the Dining Room that had first been checked by George Jaegers in 1968. They surveyed about 250 feet of sleazy low crawlway in water and then explored ahead another 250 feet or so to drop off. The pit appeared to be about 20 feet deep and they could hear a second waterfall coming from the far end of the dome. It is fairly unusual to find domes with two waterfalls. Could they have found Atz’s Solo Dome from the top? When the survey notes were plotted, it was possible.</p> <p>In early 2013, Rand Heazlitt led another <span class="caps">ISS</span> survey team to the passage. They finished the survey to the lip of the pit and Rand found a tenuous rigging point and descended the pit. He could see know sign of previous visitation, but since the cave is flood prone any evidence of Atz being there 13 years might have been gone. Because the rigging point was suspect, Rand decided no one else would descent, but he pushed about 200 feet down the passage he found on the far side of the room and sure enough he intersected a fairly wide low stream passage- possibly the South Branch River.</p> <p>Next: Rand returns&#8230;.</p> gary@indianacaverns.com Closing the Loop Part 1 http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2014/03/27/closing-the-loop-part-1/ 2014-03-27T10:05:54-04:00 <p>The excitement continues as the <span class="caps">ISS</span> pushes the frontier on diverse fronts in the Binkley Cave system. A major trip on March 15th into the South Branch section offers more reasons for excitement!</p> <p>The Indiana Speleological Survey (<span class="caps">ISS</span>) first surveyed the South Branch River of the Binkley Cave system in 1968. Beyond where Fantastic Avenue, one of the more beautiful sections of the cave system, takes off to the left, the South Branch quickly deteriorates.</p> While the passage remains nominally 10-20 feet wide in most areas and passage height averages 4-6 feet, the caver traversing the passage usually feels like they are slithering through a contorting belly crawl. The passage at many points in almost completely filled with large boulders from floor-to-ceiling with openings above and below. When forced to go below, the caver is forced down into water that varies from a few inches to 2 or 3 feet deep. Sometimes, the opening above the water is only a few inches high forcing emersion in what caver’s call “a bathtub”. I think you get the idea. It isn’t a lot of fun. Besides the South Branch lies about three hours from the entrance: one-way! <p>Several survey trips have been made over the past five decades extending the length of the South Branch. In 2001, Indiana caver, Aaron Atz, along with Chris Schotter and the author made another attempt. We were stopped by a constriction that, with a lot of chiseling and hammering, only Aaron was able to fit through. Aaron reported scooping about 1000 feet of virgin cave to a point where a somewhat drier passage led to the left a few fee above water level. Up this passage about 200 feet Aaron entered a dome with twin 20’ foot waterfalls at either end of the dome. He carefully climbed up the one on the left and found a going hands-and-knees crawl in water. He couldn’t climb up the other one and being alone in virgin cave beyond a constriction no one else could fit through, he wisely turned back. (to be continued)</p> c gary@indianacaverns.com Pushing On http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2014/02/17/pushing-on/ 2014-02-17T10:19:16-05:00 <p>Alrighty boys and girls this is a report about the February 8th trip back to survey a passage off the Dining Room we have been referring to as Tim&#8217;s birthday passage.</p> <p>We met at the usual location Fredrick&#8217;s Cafe: Shane Miles, Tim Pride, Aaron Valandra, Gary Roberson and myself. Gary was just meeting for breakfast and the regular pre-trip speculating. Brad was to meet us at the entrance. I left breakfast a little early to go pick up a new tape from the store as I realized that mine had been left in Wilson Way.</p> <p>I met the guys at the Historic Entrance and all were getting dressed when I arrived. Running behind, i was the last one heading into the cave as everyone else had already gone in to get out of the cold. I met Brad on the way down and he said he wasn&#8217;t feeling well and thought he shouldn&#8217;t go on the trip. Knowing we were looking at a 12 hour trip we both knew everybody needed to be all -in and feeling good. Agreeing to call when we got out I headed into the cave.</p> <p>The entrance was ice covered and gorgeous but the water from the freezing rain had run down the entrance, creating an ice stream all the way to the river passage. There was evidence of recently fallen rock all around so the no touch the rocks mantra was on red alert. I joined up with the rest of the team at the stream where we decided to take Lamon&#8217;s Cutoff to get over to Fantastic Avenue. It is a much shorter route but has been considered to be a more strenuous passage to traverse. The air was was very strong and cold and the bats which usually hang near the entrance room had moved further back into the cave.</p> <p>Entering Lamon&#8217;s Cutoff, we found it was filled with more water than usual perhaps the most we had ever encountered. We made good time thru the passage and were soon in the 140 passage it was at this time Tim began to have some pack problems- a Swago malfunction looked imminent. Tim was also carrying my a pack with the rope to rig the pit at the end of the survey. We continued on our route thru the Sewer Tube and up towards the Fatigue Way.</p> <p>Aaron was treated to seeing a part of the cave he had never been in before. Despite it&#8217;s historically bad rap, this route has some very nice passage and formations. It is a beautiful part of the cave. Again at Jagger&#8217;s Trail, Tim experienced more pack issues but he was able to get them under control and we headed on toward our objective.</p> <p>The rift in the ceiling prior to the turnoff for Fantastic Avenue was running very heavily and the waterfall was quite magnificent. We spent several moments there enjoying the display. From there we quickly made our way to the junction and headed over to the climb up in to Fantastic Avenue. It was at this time when Tim&#8217;s Swago had a catastrophic strap failure. We took a moment to collect ourselves and have a drink and a bite to eat. Shane being the great cousin he is allowed Aaron to double strap both packs on his back while Tim focused on just carrying the rope pack.</p> <p>We carefully climbed into Fantastic Avenue, one of my favorite places! There are wonderful formations here including some amazing calcite blades. In the 1997 flood the water backed up into the passage covering many formations that had been white or multi-colored with a good coating of mud obscuring their lovely colors. Now it appears that this coating is washing away and a lot of this color is once again visible.</p> <p>We continued on past the Two Mile Hike and Rock Island Road until near the Dining Room passage we entered into the passage where we would survey. The passage was typical Binkley&#8217;s slime belly crawl in water improving to some hand and knees. We passed several other leads on the right and left that still need to be surveyed two of which looked better then what we were in.</p> <p>We reached what was believed to be the end of the survey and I took the rope pack forward to rig the pit up ahead while Shane, Time and Aaron surveyed up to it.</p> <p>The pit was 300&#8217; from the end of the survey and looked to be less than 20&#8217;deep. While not very deep I was none too happy with my rig points! I ultimately chose a small rock bridge that crossed the stream and backed it up off another wall protrusion. I felt secure enough to use this rig to check the pit out but did not like the idea of several people going up and down on it so I planned a solo drop with some recon.</p> <p>I waited until the survey crew caught up with me and informed them about my thoughts on the rig for the pit. All agreed just one of us (me) would go this time. It was not difficult to convince them. They were already cold from surveying in the water and I was going to have to rappel into the waterfall and get soaked.</p> <p>I began my descent which was quite easy and not nearly as wet as I had feared. Reaching the bottom I could see a nice hands and knees passage heading off the bottom of the pit and a second waterfall draining an entirely different stream at about the same level from which I had just descended. Additionally the water from both Waterfalls was going into a drain in the floor which had the potential to be enlarged. I set a point at the bottom of the pit we measured it at about 15&#8217;. The waterfall passage I had just rappelled from was trending about 350 degrees. The other waterfall passage was trending about 30 degrees and seemed slightly larger with a little more water the air was strong and seemed to be heading up into it. While I felt I could likely free climb up to the top of the waterfall I opted to wait until I had backup and and a better rig point on the other waterfall.</p> <p>I now turned my attention to the hands and knees crawl heading off the base of the pit trending about 260 degrees. It was an easy crawl about 3-4&#8217; wide and and 3.5&#8217; tall. It was a solution passage with pooled water and several blind crayfish. I could see no evidence of anyone having been here before but the water could have easily obscured any previous trek. There was some fine organic debris in the pools that may have washed in from one or both of the waterfalls. After about 250&#8217; the passage dropped about 5&#8217; over flow stone into a 20-25&#8217;wide river passage likely the South Branch river.</p> <p>A very noteworthy thing is right where the flowstone begins there is a fossil the size of a black walnut. It appears to be the same type as the one in the Subway Passage in Blowing Hole. It was beautiful a small piece; broken off revealing the inside. It was just like finding a shell on the beach. The interior detail was fantastic. I believe it is a ancient sea urchin, melonechinus.</p> <p>Back to the river passage it was about 7&#8217; tall where I was but you would have to duck under breakdown to go either up or downstream. It appeared that we had indeed likely found the passage that Aaron Atz had seen nearly 15 years ago.<br /> There appeared to be plenty to explore and survey here too. Aaron would have come from downstream but it was apparent you could continue upstream too. Where would that go<cite>??</cite></p> <p>I quickly headed back to the pit and conferred with my companions. We decided to exit the cave leaving the rope and come back with a larger survey team and attack both the river and other waterfall. I easily climbed out of the pit using my ascender more as handholds then really loading the rope.</p> <p>We quickly loaded up putting Tim&#8217;s broken pack in my rope bag and out we headed vowing to return soon.</p> <p>(Fast forward )</p> <p>We chose to again exit via Lamon&#8217;s. Cutoff and perhaps it is because of the difficult Miller entrance trips but this trip was really quite easy and <span class="caps">MUCH</span> shorter than going the long way out. We were treated to a good cold soaking in the cutoff so our clothes would freeze nicely as we climbed out.</p> <p>We allowed plenty of room in between each of us as we exited to limit our exposure to the strong entrance air being sucked in from outside. As is usual hands were numb and clothes freezing by the time we reached our cars. We quickly changed called Gary and others. We convened the post trip debriefing and speculating at the Waffle House shortly before midnight. It had been a 12 hr trip as predicted a great one in fact with the promise of more virgin passage.</p> <p>It was another great day under the Sinkhole Plain!!<br /> Rand Heazlitt</p> Rand Heazlitt gary@indianacaverns.com Random Memories of Tim McClain http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2013/12/02/random-memories-of-tim-mcclain/ 2013-12-02T17:03:47-05:00 <p>I knew Tim McClain for less than four years, since he first walked into Frederick’s Café in Corydon with Dave Everton for his first <span class="caps">ISS</span> trip in Binkley Cave system. I certainly wish I had the privilege of knowing him much longer.</p> <p>Tim always seemed to have a smile on his face and look on the bright side even in difficult situations. He was the kind of guy who held a volunteer group like the <span class="caps">ISS</span> together. Made up of lots of strong, independent personalities, Tim fit in with everyone and subtly helped keep everyone working together. There was something about Tim that drew everyone towards him.</p> <p>When we met for breakfast at Frederick’s Café in Corydon every week before the scheduled cave survey trip, I always wanted to sit close to Tim so we could exchange speculation on where the latest discovery might be heading. Both Tim and I had big visions for how large the cave system might eventually become.</p> <p>I was fortunate enough to sit with him that last Saturday at breakfast. You certainly would not have guessed anything was amiss. Tim was grinning as always. He shared with me about his recent trip with John Shultheis to bolt climb Dome #1 in the Two Mile Hike section. I replied that I had heard that they didn’t find much. However, to my surprise, Tim was somewhat excited about the possibilities. He animatedly described how he had crawled 75-100 feet up a narrow stream canyon that only he could fit through. The airflow was good and the stream a decent flow. Tim thought it very possible that it would open into another passage like Blowing Hole Boulevard that led to the Indiana Caverns portion of the cave. Many hours into the long trip, he and John were physically shot when Tim finally pushed up the crawl lying on his side. They would have to wait for another trip to see what lay beyond.</p> <p>That is the way it was with Tim. He was always going where no one else could go or few would even want to consider going. That is the way I want to always remember Tim – a caver who was confident, competent and knew the limits of what he could do.</p> <p>He and Nick Benton’s were the first to push through Joy’s Gulp, a low water crawl in the Guy Stover’s section pushing mud and rocks to the side as they proceeded. Joy’s Gulp is an ear-dipper in places, where a caver has to turn their head sideways and put one ear in the water to breathe. Upon reaching a breakdown blockage, Tim dug up vertically through precarious looking overhanging breakdown to make the connection between Guy Stover’s and Binkley Cave proper. This connection greatly shortened the travel time to reach the Indiana Caverns section of the cave. Without this connection, there probably would be no Indiana Caverns today. Thanks Tim!</p> <p>I would like to share one more special remembrance of Tim. Back in 2008, Rand Heazlitt discovered a new passage while on a photo trip in preparation for my book with Dave Everton and I. This passage eventually became the shortcut to the Two Mile Hike section cutting off almost two miles of caving each way in the process. However this connection wasn’t at all straightforward. I remember lying on my belly looking to the right that day into an even smaller side lead that day. The opening over a silt bank in front of me was hardly big enough for a good-sized rat to fit through. Another nearby passage certainly seemed to be a better route. However that didn’t deter Tim and Rand. On future trips they would eventually force their way through this passage I dare say not even one in a thousand other cavers would give a second glance at.</p> <p>After their later breakthrough to connect with the bottom of the Great Pit, I was privileged to finally see Grand Falls, which the <span class="caps">ISS</span> had discovered way back in 1968 via the much longer route. I had talked about it for decades and now I was finally here. As I lay in that hole in that I could barely fit through in a few inches of water and mud even after all their efforts at excavation, I was in awe of what some people will do to push into the unknown. That’s the way my fondest memories of Tim are. Doing something most of us couldn’t or wouldn’t do and doing it safely.</p> <p>One more note. Later this same trip through the Great Pit Shortcut, I found myself in small upper level after crawling on my side through an area known as “the Ripper” just above Grand Falls. I was really shot physically and very cold. In hindsight, I was probably too far into a difficult section of the cave for a relatively big guy who was then 64 years old. The ripper had shredded my pants and top. I had abandoned both and was now caving in just my wetsuit, helmets and shoes.</p> <p>As I sat there shivering and wondering if I had enough guts and strength to make it out of the cave, here comes Tim McClain passing by with his survey team moving up for a leapfrog survey. He immediately saw I was having trouble and offered a black trash bag he had in helmet liner. We cut a slit in the top and I slid it down over my body. Over the next few minutes, warmth slowly came back into my body and I was able to slowly make the long trip back out without incident. However I have often thought about Tim’s quick perception of my need that day when I was close to the edge of my limits. That was the essence of Tim McClain and that’s how I want to remember him. Always smiling, covered with mud, strong, in control and ready to met every situation and help his friends.</p> <p>I will miss you Tim. So will everyone else who met you. Thanks for the wonderful memories.</p> <p>Gary Roberson</p> <p>Proud friend of Tim McClain<br /> Original member of the <span class="caps">ISS</span><br /> <span class="caps">CEO</span> of Indiana Caverns</p> Gary Roberson gary@indianacaverns.com Into the Unknown http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2013/10/21/into-the-unknown/ 2013-10-21T14:28:47-04:00 <p>The actual survey into the Wild Wild West began on July 20th. Six Indiana Speleological Survey (<span class="caps">ISS</span>) cavers made a leapfrog survey totaling almost 1800 feet of new cave. They started with the dreaded survey of the last 600 feet of Rand’s Return River Ride, which is very, very wet and low. Everyone was totally chilled when they were finally able to stand upright at the river junction marking the start of the Wild Wild West.</p> <p>The upstream team quickly found a hole pulling strong air into breakdown in an alcove about 12 feet above the river. Rand also explored ahead beyond the survey and found a side lead carrying in white limestone dust from the quarry. Survey notes later showed that the cave passage comes very close to the north high wall of the quarry, however the river level is probably 40-50 feet below the quarry floor. Fortunately there were no signs of breakdown or fracturing from the massive blasts in the quarry above.</p> <p>The downstream crew surveyed to the junction with a major lead to the left. Everyone then did a little “Next Trip Investment” (<span class="caps">NTI</span>) for a few hundred feet downstream. The river continued sometimes walking, sometimes stooping but never too large. There was noticeable airflow into the unknown in front of them.</p> <p>On August 3rd, two teams returned. One survey party continued the downstream survey while the other team dug on the upstream hole sucking major air into it. The team digging in the hole almost froze from the chill of the strong breeze over their totally wet clothing. The downstream team added about 800 feet of new survey in wet stoopway. When they did their <span class="caps">NTI</span>, they found the virgin passage beyond almost immediately enlarged to nice clean washed walking passage. The passage started bearing almost due west. It would take at least four miles of cave to get to the nearest spring on Indian Creek. They were clearly heading into a totally blank area on their map.</p> <p>A week later two more teams surveyed downstream in very wet conditions adding another 843 feet of survey. Their <span class="caps">NTI</span> revealed no end in sight. However the passage was often only four feet high with 2 feet of water wall-to-wall broken by occasional short walking sections. They decided to count blindfish on their way in. From the ladder climb down into Blowing Hole to the frontier where they turned around, they saw 47 blindfish including the largest one Dave had ever seen in the cave.</p> <p>August 17th marked the third straight weekend of survey in the Wild Wild West. That’s a lot when every trip includes over 6,000 feet of crawling. Everyone was excited about this trip as it was up the left hand side lead that appeared to be larger than any of the other passages and moved big air. They again had two teams for a leapfrog survey. It was a great day! In the larger passageway, survey shots were much longer so they could cover more ground with less shots. The two teams wound up setting a total of 31 stations totaling over 2255 feet. During their <span class="caps">NTI</span>, they crossed over a breakdown hallway and on into more walking passage averaging 7 feet high and 15-20 feet wide. At one point, they had to slog through suck mud that was close to crotch deep. In other areas, there was almost no mud. No one could really figure out what was going on.</p> <p>The weekend after Labor Day found three teams heading in. This would be my first survey trip in over year. During the development of Indiana Caverns, I didn’t have enough energy or time to do both. At age 66, I chose a modest goal to survey a short segment upstream just beyond the connection up to the terminal breakdown in main stem of Blowing Hole. The other two teams would continue the upstream survey in the main river beyond the 1600-foot crawlway. On their way, they would put a couple of big smoke bombs into the hole sucking air into the breakdown. Dave thought it might connect back to the main river in Blowing Hole. If so, my team should see the smoke coming through the terminal breakdown. Sure enough, just as our survey was about to reach the breakdown, here came the smoke out of a low water crawl and down low on the right hand edge of the breakdown. Later after everyone was out of the cave, we determined that it took the smoke only 5-10 minutes to get through the breakdown, which represents a missing gap of about 600 feet. The total survey for the day was 1470 feet.</p> <p>On September 14th, Tim Pride led a survey team back to the downstream river in <span class="caps">WWW</span>. They added 705 feet of new survey mainly in stooping-to-crawling height passage averaging about two feet of water. During their <span class="caps">NTI</span> beyond the survey, they encountered deep water and low air space. Tim pushed into air space as low as 2-3 inches with air howling downstream through it. There should be miles and miles of passage beyond and eventually it has to turn into big booming passage. However it appears the downstream area is not going to reveal its secrets easily.</p> <p>In less than two months, the <span class="caps">ISS</span> had added close to two miles of new survey in the Wild Wild West. Now it was time to return for another trip to the bigger upstream passage heading due south into the big ridge. More on that next week.</p> Gary Roberson gary@indianacaverns.com Wilson Way Moves Binkley Up to #9 http://indianacaverns.com/blog/archives/2013/10/21/wilson-way-moves-binkley-up-to-9/ 2013-10-21T14:54:11-04:00 After the last trip to Wilson Way, on which the <span class="caps">ISS</span> had surveyed over 2200 feet and turned around in nice walking passage, the hardcore of the <span class="caps">ISS</span> was anxious to return to scoop some booty and see whether it would go under the big ridge or skirt the hillside through a saddle. Tim Pride was leading the trip and they finally settled on Saturday September 28th. The four-person team also included <span class="caps">ISS</span> project leader, Dave Everton, Shane Myles and slim Tim McClain. Since the last trip, several passage improvement trips had been made in the Miller’s entrance section. Teams of cavers had dug out the floor in several low spots making it hands and knees crawl rather than flat out belly crawl. This work made the 1500–foot long entrance crawl easier and reduced travel time. After putting on their wetsuits in the Wetsuit Graveyard, they entered the 1600-foot long low, wet connection to the Wild Wild West. The guys made it to the frontier and were ready to start surveying in just over three hours – a record time. Dave stopped to inspect a good-looking lead overhead about 1000 feet into Wilson Way. It crosses at right angles and looks like it could go in both directions? This coming weekend’s trip is going back here to see what is up there. They surveyed for a several hours across a rocky hall, where they had ended their survey on the last trip and on through nice steam passage. Dave eventually got brain-fried doing the sketch, which is the hardest of the surveying jobs. He turned the sketching over to Tim Pride and began checking ahead. The passage immediately got lower and for a minute he thought it might shut down. However the passage quickly changed character again and opened up to 12-15 feet in height. It now contained much larger and higher mudbanks that often choked down the usable space. Dave eventually reached a fork in the main passage. The left hand fork seemed very inviting with a 15-foot high ceiling and a very small stream exiting from it. What was even more intriguing is that the water flowing out was heading into the right hand fork. This meant they had crossed a drainage divide and were now going downstream! Somewhere ahead they could possibly intersect another parallel river passage? The potential length of the cave seemed to be growing almost exponentially these past three months. Dave eventually made his way back to the others, who were still surveying. They soon decided to call it a day and did their normal next trip investment (<span class="caps">NTI</span>). <p>Their <span class="caps">NTI</span> eventually took them to another junction where the downstream continuation of the passage got much smaller. They climbed up a mudbank and into a more inviting passage extending off around the corner. Dave though possibly that some of these junctions may just be meander loops? Only time and survey will tell.</p> They had scooped enough for the day. It was time to head out. They departed the frontier at 7:15pm. Everyone had exited the cave by around midnight making it a 12-13 hour trip. When the notes were plotted, they had surveyed 1753 more feet and the map showed their survey ended almost directly under the top of the big ridge south of the Vulcan Materials Quarry. They had explored probably around 1000 feet further, which, if the cave continues in the same direction, would put it on the downhill south slope heading towards the vast sinkhole plain stretching all the way to the Ohio River. It would make good sense that they did cross a drainage divide and are heading into a totally new area of the topo map. When we added the new survey to the total for the cave, Binkley Cave was now 38.452 miles in length and had passed Bluespring Cave in Tennessee and was tied with Organ Cave in West Virginia for 9th place on the US long cave list. Binkley has moved up from 22nd spot in early February of 2012 to 9th place in only about a year and a half. Obviously much more remains to be surveyed and these are exciting times for the <span class="caps">ISS</span> and the Binkley Cave system. Stay tuned for the results of the next survey trip. Gary Roberson gary@indianacaverns.com